In 2020, a Laundroid might be folding your laundry. The size of a refrigerator, the Laundroid has a bottom bin in which you can place a crumpled t-shirt. Five minutes later when you return, neatly folded, it awaits you.
We could save 9,000 hours–maybe a year–if a robot folded our laundry. The worry though is that machines will eliminate jobs when they do our work.
The Jobs Impact of Automation
Economists disagree about the impact of automation.
Some see it as considerable. Economist Jeffrey Sachs says we can expect a “nirvana and hell” in which labor loses and capital wins. Former Secretary of the Treasury Lawrence Summers adds that economists always applaud the benefits of technology but this time they might be underestimating the extent that workers will suffer.
As for those who are less concerned, we can look at a new OECD paper where researchers suggest we look at job tasks rather than the entire job. Through their lens entire occupations are not obliterated because certain tasks that relate to an automated job still need people.
Below is a graph from a previous study that projected the possibility of a 47% job loss:
US Employment by Risk Category (Frey/Osborne 2013, p.37)
By contrast, when the OECD researchers unbundled the tasks in the older paper’s jobs, they wound up with a much lower percent of people at high risk. For the U.S. they said the threat was a 9% loss rather than 47%. However, they also cited the vulnerability of lower income workers.
Automatibility by OECD Countries
It is interesting that Japan, with more robot density, has less automatibility than Germany and the U.S.:
Our Bottom Line: Externalities
Remembering that in the past we’ve worried needlessly about machines replacing people, we could cite these externalities:
- New jobs will produce the machines that automate other industries.
- Automation could lower costs and thereby increase a firm’s competitive advantage.
- Elevated worker productivity could boost wages.
- Innovation generates growth.
In addition, those 9,000 hours of your life that you devote to folding laundry could be used much more productively.
You might also want to look at the Foldimate
My sources: Always interesting, yesterday, NY Times columnist Eduardo Porter connected the recent OECD paper to the minimum income debate. Having just seen a qz.com graph of countries with robots, a pcmag article and the Laundroid video, I thought, we have the pieces of a puzzle that form a picture about robots’ impact.